Nolu’s Downtown is somewhat of an Abu Dhabi institution, a homegrown concept that fuses together Californian-style cooking with a unique Afghani twist – we’ve never heard or tasted anything like it. Intrigued by the concept, FACT’s David Tapley went to check out the menu…

Situated on the upper level of Abu Dhabi’s Galleria Mall, Nolu’s makes for a welcome change from the glitzy retail outlets and fine-dining restaurants this particular shopping arcade is renowned for. It would seem the secret is well and truly out, for on the Friday afternoon we visit (when much of the population are brunching) Nolu’s is heaving with families enjoying the food and beautiful waterfront views. Much of the attraction comes from a versatile menu traversing everything from breakfast favourites, through to burgers, sandwiches and traditional Afghani dishes. Yet Nolu’s offers more than just good food, with a firm focus on healthy eating, those in search of personal wellbeing will be pleased to find everything from cold pressed juices, superfood bowls and bone broth, on a menu that literally offers something for everyone.

Flipping the UAE’s insatiable appetite for cafe-culture on its head, the team at Nolu’s look to diversify the country’s beverage requirements and this relates to more than just excellent coffee and tea. Smoothies (we highly recommend the Amazonian Hero blending together acai, banana, blueberries, pineapple, chia seeds and almond milk), freshly squeezed juices and a number of ‘supercharged remedies’ make for some truly interesting  choices with an emphasis on health as opposed to the usual gimmickry — with turmeric, beetroot and charcoal matcha lattes proving incredibly popular – as the menu clearly states “there’s a little love in everything you drink.”

Marking an entirely new approach to dining in the capital, this emphasis on fresh ingredients and simplicity combined with complex flavours, also translates into the food. We can’t resist the Mantoo Dumplings a staple of Afghani cuisine comprising of steamed parcels stuffed with minced beef, onion and coriander and served within an intricately seasoned tomato sauce. The result lies somewhere between a Nepalese momo and Italian lasagne while promoting a subtle blend of spices and seasoning that really helps to elevate the dish.

The Qabili Pallow is easily the most popular dish on the menu and actually represents the national dish of Afghanistan. Hailing from the Northern part of the country, this fragrant rice based dish presents brown rice cooked in an aromatic stock and served with carrots and raisins which add a vibrancy and sweetness to the dish. Yet it’s the lamb shank which is the real star of the show. Slow cooked and beautifully tender the perfectly seasoned meet glides easily from the bone at the mere touch of the fork.

The Kebob is often associated with  street-side vendors and small restaurants in Afghanistan and here at Nolu’s the skewered meat is skillfully prepared with a nice charred flavour while still retaining the moisture of the meat, with a more than generous portion lying upon a bed of aromatic Afghani brown rice. The menu at Nolu’s also features an abundance of pastas, grills, burgers and salads and despite the overwhelming choice, we would thoroughly recommend saving a little room for dessert. A glass display case showcases a variety of cakes and pastries including tiramisu, cardamom cheesecake and thick wedges of exceptionally moist carrot and red velvet cakes.

Housed within a bright and open space, immaculately tiled, strung with exposed light bulbs and featuring plenty of vegetation, Nolu’s Downtown exudes a hipster-like vibe that’s rare to find in the capital and one that complements the concept with such gusto that it’s easy to see why Abu Dhabi residents flock here. With locations in Al Bandar and the new Raw by Nolu’s at Al Seef, rest assured that team Fact is looking forward to checking out Nolu’s third opening very soon and it goes to show how much this homegrown brand is changing the way in which we think about food in Abu Dhabi. As the winner of Best Café at the FACT Dining Awards Abu Dhabi 2018, there’s no better time to see what all the fuss is about.